INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW NJINEMBO NJIALA - COMMERCIAL MANAGER AFRICA
FAT FILLED MILK POWDER IS FOR AFRICA THE NEXT BIG THING, IF NOT ALREADY.
Hi Andrew, could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Andrew Njinembo Njiala and I am a Commercial Manager or Dairy Commodity Trader at Interfood BV. Together with Team Africa we are responsible for the African dairy market. I grew up in Cameroon, where part of my family is still living today. This means I’m far from my country of birth for a substantial period now. After studying Accountancy at the Institute University of Buea in Cameroon in 2009, I moved to the Netherlands for my higher education. I started studying Business Administration and International Business Management at Fontys Hogescholen Eindhoven.
What was your motivation to start a job at Interfood?
In 2014, after obtaining my degree in Business Management, I was approached by a headhunter for the role of Trader within Interfood. I was charmed by the project the company had for the African dairy industry and I was interested in the dairy business in general. I felt the urge to give something back to the most beautiful continent in the world.
What is your role within Interfood?
At Interfood, I am a Trader and my main focus is Africa. I grew up in Africa and I am well acquainted with the culture and languages of many African countries. This, combined with the Dutch culture I have cultivated during my time in the Netherlands, makes me a good bridge or connector for both parties.
I am mainly responsible for countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa, DRC, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, etc. But I am also active in some countries like Gabon and Central African Republic, collaborating with intermediaries. On top of that I handle some supplier accounts, mainly in the UK.
Since you’re working for Interfood for more than 5 years now, what’s your favorite thing about Interfood?
That would be the Interfood culture. Unfortunately, as the company grows bigger, it is becoming more difficult to maintain this culture. However, this is one of the best things about Interfood. Interfood is a really flat organization and you will experience a truly open and down-to-earth culture. You get the opportunity to use and show your talent and also learn from the best in dairy trading. There is a rich blend of styles within the Interfood trading team and with so many cultures and nationalities we keep learning and improving every day. Apart from the daily work routine, Interfood is very diversified and engaged in a variety of sport activities, fitness programs and humanitarian efforts. Employees are really well taken care of (tertiary benefits).
About your job at Interfood, what does your average working week look like?
Let’s say a working day because the nature of my job is such that we don’t relegate tasks to a certain day within the week. We are always up and running. I will break it into two parts since a good part of my job involves travelling.
On the day or week I am in Bladel, my work mainly consists of telephone calls, emails, conversations with colleagues, meetings, product positioning, and supporting Team Logistics working on shipments. On the telephone with customers we discuss deals, prices, shipments, market info, and claims. And on an average day I receive about 100 emails. These emails usually contain leads, market info from colleagues around the world, questions from customers, and conversations with other supporting departments such as logistics, finance and secretaries. We constantly discuss the market and opportunities and we continuously share insights to be able to offer our customers a full and exhaustive dairy package. At Interfood, we don’t believe in long deliberative meetings. If we have meetings, they are usually straight to the point and as short as possible. However, it is good to sit down once in a while and put all cards on the table, away from the hustle and bustle of the trading floor. Finally, along with another colleague I am responsible for one of the main product groups at Interfood. That is why we spend a part of our working week with managing the sales and purchases of this product and setting the direction we have to follow for that product.
When I am travelling it’s a little different. Then I spend most time in cabs, travelling to and from meetings (especially in cities like Lagos, where there is lots of traffic). In many cases, I visit the market together with my customers. Inn the evenings we try to have dinner with our customers to get to know each other and build a relationship. Sometimes, if we have spare time, we also visit the city center or whatever else the city or country is known for.
What do you like the most about your job?
What I liked most at the beginning was travelling. It created new experiences all the time, meeting new people and expanding my network. That changed a little because my family also expanded along the line. Nevertheless I still enjoy my trips but nowadays I am more eager to go home than I was before. Another aspect I like about the job are the constant exciting challenges in trading. You virtually face a new opportunity or challenge every day and you have to figure out how to solve them and roll to the next. It keeps you focused and motivated and you constantly have to be the best version of yourself.
How about your work-life balance?
Most people consider my life boring because I spend a lot of my free time, also during weekends, in church. However, this gives me actual energy and drive as I believe I would be a wreck without God in my life. Next to work and going to church, I do have enough time to spend with my beautiful family and to enjoy my passion and hobby, because I play and watch football a lot. I am grateful to live and work in a country that allows me the freedom, resources and time to enjoy these four aspects of my life: God, Family, Business and Sports.
Since you’re responsible for the African market, what does the African dairy market look like?
The biggest part of the African dairy market actually depends on imports, especially Western Africa, where we do the main business. This is due to poor infrastructure coupled with harsh weather conditions for potential cattle rearing. The African market is mainly price sensitive and secondly quality sensitive. It’s an ever-changing market as people are constantly searching for a cheaper replacement for dairy. On the other side, this continent has a high potential for growth due to the growing population and economy.
How do you see the future of the African dairy market and the way Interfood will play their role?
I would say the future of dairy in Africa is mainly in the fat filled milk powder sector. This is a cheaper replacement for whole milk powder. Instead of the animal fat, which is also the source of butter, palm fat or coco’s fat is used as a replacement. This fat could be 4 times cheaper than butter fat, depending on the market, and it works quite well especially in Western Africa. Many countries are embracing this product and the world market is slowly adjusting to accommodate this product. This is the next big thing in dairy, if not already.
There is also the emergence of fast food chains who use mozzarella and other types of cheese but this hasn’t really taken off and will not be very significant for the global dairy market in the next decade.
And finally, I see some developments in local dairy. A few governments, like the government of Nigeria, are encouraging local dairy. Although I like the idea, I believe West Africa in particular is well far off producing even half of the local dairy demand in that market. But as the chairman of Interfood says, and I quote, “No one knows what the future holds, but one thing is certain; we will be there following our passion and doing what we do best”.